Back in the dim and distant etc., when I lived and worked in London, lost in the mists of my first stint working for a library supplier, I would travel up from Moorgate to New Barnet with my colleague Paul. He was (and is) a lovely chap, maybe a touch eccentric around the edges, and on those train journeys, he would often be scribbling what I believe they call ‘rhymes’ (do they? I don’t know, I’m not in the least hip, let alone hip hop) on an A4 lined pad, sometimes practising them, too. He did ever such a good rap, composed on the spot, on my (first) leaving day and we kept in vague touch.
Several (many) years later, and Paul Alborough, the jolly chap on the train, had metamorphosed into Professor Elemental, beloved and well-known exponent of the ‘Chap Hop’ genre of music. He’d moved from office work to teaching and then on to a full-time music career, and in fact I have been interviewing him in the Saturday Business Chat strand on my professional website for a few years now, most recently a week or so ago. Having branched out into tea, t-shirts and comics, the sensible next move for the Professor Elemental brand would surely be a novel … and so it was to be.
Professor Elemental & Nimue Brown (ill. Tom Brown) – “Letters Between Gentlemen”
I was going to say that steampunk isn’t really my genre, but having read two books in the genre this month (the other being Paul Magrs’ “Mrs Danby and Company“, and yes, I have recommended the two Pauls to one another), I can’t really claim that any more. I would say that I don’t know the ins and outs of what a steampunk novel should be, but I gather from my small forays that it should feature a) wild and unpredictable inventions, b) said inventions being crafted from older materials such as brass and rivets rather than modern stuff, c) time settings in the Victorian/ Edwardian era, d) humour, e) memorable characters, f) a complex and highly amusing plot. If so, this one ticks all the boxes.
With the main characters the private investigator Algernon Spoon, a batty aristo, Horatio Plunkett, and his very amenable sister Maude and Professor Elemental, here a real inventor with a besuited ape side-kick and an unfortunate habit of blowing up and otherwise accidentally destroying his inventions, their users and innocent bystanders, you know that mayhem is likely to ensue. Throw in some badgermingos, a huge metal Professor, some curiously veiled sisters, a tangle of dodgy societies and an even tighter tangle of a plot, and you’re guaranteed laughs and silliness. There’s satire, too, at gender and class relations and learned societies, which gives the book more depth and prevents it from being merely silly (there is a fair bit of innuendo which is not for the very easily offended). On the offence point, yes, there is murder most horrid and the odd disappearing puppy, but it’s done very lightly and nothing upset your feeble reviewer, so is not likely to upset you.
The plot all comes together, there are some read-out-loud and laugh-out-loud moments, and the book itself is a very nice object – I was sent (thank you!) the hardback in a nice slip-case, and the book has a nice feel and some excellent illustrations.
This book will suit: Fans of Professor Elemental; fans of Paul Magrs; fans of Terry Pratchett; general readers looking for an entertaining read.
Disclaimer: I was sent this book for review by the Prof. I was not asked to link to the Professor Elemental website but have done so anyway.